The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation: Volume 1, The Pox Party is one of those books that attempts to overturn established ideas. It really knocked me off my feet for a bit, intellectually speaking. I found it to be extraordinarily well written, although I doubt its categorization (at my library, at least) as a work of juvenile literature. I don’t think I would recommend it to a young person under the age of fourteen or fifteen, just because of some of the things that happen are difficult to read about, and there are several pointed references to both s** and violence. However, that caveat isn’t meant to deter a person from reading it at all. I think this is a book that is worthwhile for even teenagers to read, despite a few unsavory situations and descriptions contained therein, because it reveals attitudes and beliefs prevalent at the time of the founding of our nation.
The whole time I was reading this book, in my mind I was reliving an undergraduate history class on the French Revolution and Napoleonic period. My professor, who was in his first years of professorship and fresh off his doctoral studies in Paris, did a terrific job of painting a picture of the intellectual landscape of the day. Of course, this is also the time period of the American Revolution and the time period in which Octavian Nothing is set, minus a few decades. The Age of Enlightenment doesn’t seem all that enlightened to us, of course, but it is amazing to me to see the pure faith they had in science and how it could answer all their questions and solve all their problems. Actually, it sounds sort of familiar, now that I think about it.
Putting all the history and philosophy aside, this book is, as I said above, extraordinarily well written. The word that comes to my mind is pathos. I felt so completely in tune with Octavian in his suffering and confusion about his lot in life that when I read the blockbuster ending (which is an obvious set-up for a sequel, and aren’t we glad?!?), I nearly gasped. To think that educated men put other human beings through such inhumane treatment for the sake of “science,” well, it defies explanation.
I realize that I’m the last to the party concerning this book, and this review hasn’t really provided any plot information at all, but summaries of this one are easy to come by. If you’re interested in history in the least, Octavian Nothing is not to be missed.